The last few “Watch A Day” choices were quite inexpensive, but today’s watch is affordable only compared to other options in its class. The Montblanc Homage to Nicolas Rieussec combines unique complications, a special manufacture movement, and an eye-catching look at an attainable if not exactly affordable price. It’s also a comfortable, useful watch for traveling.
In the pantheon of watches, a special place is reserved for high-end complicated watches with specialized movements and components. The market is full of fine luxury watches built from commodity components: Rolex uses just a few movements and cases, as do Omega, IWC, Seiko, and most of the other top-selling brands. This is just how watches are made, and different models and special editions are usually simply unique combinations of existing components.
But some vendors also make specialized watches with unique movements and complications. This is obviously an expensive and challenging proposition, both technically and operationally, for a watch company. They need to be able to conceptualize, design, engineer, test, source, assemble, market, distribute, and support the watch, all of which are extreme challenges. Although specialized complicated watches serve as a halo for the company’s product line, most decide against such a move. It’s the same situation automakers face when it comes to exotic engines and sports cars: It’s a big investment in an unprofitable product.
Many watchmakers produce tourbillons or repeaters as the ultimate expression of their technical and artistic skill. Below this is the realm of high-end complications: Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Duomètre, perpetual calendars from Patek Philippe and IWC, A. Lange & Söhne’ Lange 1, and even the Sky-Dweller from Rolex. All feature specialized movements, unique technical elements, and Mercedes-Benz pricetags. The Montblanc Rieussec models are comparable in quality and execution but sell for used-car money.
Montblanc is not known for watches even though they entered the market back in 1997. 10 years later, Richemont, owner of many watch brands from Jaeger-LeCoultre to IWC to A. Lange & Söhne in addition to Montblanc, decided that the company could capitalize on its brand recognition and sales channel. They made two strong moves to establish technical credibility: Acquire Minerva to develop high-end watches and work with ValFleurier to create a true manufacture complication for a special watch model. The Nicolas Rieussec models are the result of the second half of this effort.
The Rieussec watch calibre is a technical powerhouse with double-barrel power, a monopusher chronograph with column wheel and vertical clutch, and an adjustable hour hand for a second time zone linked to a bi-directional date wheel. It also has wonderful aesthetics, with the Gyromax balance at 6:00 left open to view, the skeletonized rotor designed to show off the column wheel through a Montblanc star aperture, and excellent finishing with Geneva waves, blued screws, and beveled edges.
This combination of features is incredibly useful in daily wear. Although it lacks a running seconds hand, the vertical clutch means that the chronograph can safely be left running at all times. And the column wheel makes start, stop, and reset exceptionally smooth and quick. It’s also easy to use, with a single button at 8:00 cycling through these modes. One might prefer a monopusher chronograph to be operated by a button in the crown, but that arrangement feels more fussy and old fashioned than a modern-looking watch like this requires.
Chronograph time is read on two novel discs placed at roughly 5:00 and 7:00, with the time moved about 2/3 up in the dial. These discs recall the original “time writer” of Nicolas Rieussec, but it wasn’t until the 2014 release of this Homage model that his blue diamond-shaped hand appeared. All other versions have an oddly baroque bridge with pointers or, in the case of the last versions, regular hands and subdials.
The discs are a really special element of this watch and are unusual if not unique in watchmaking. One reason is mass: Although the movement is well-constructed, the seconds disc flutters slightly as it advances due to the effect of inertia. This is similar to a watch with indirect central seconds, and probably explains the rarity of this complication.
The second big complication of the Rieussec watches is the second timezone display. Pull the crown to second position and the skeleton second timezone hand can be moved in one-hour increments while the main “home” time keeps running. As you pass midnight, the date wheel advances along with this travel time hour hand. The day/night indicator at 9:00 (not obvious in many of my daytime photos) stays with home time. Curiously, although there are quite a few Rieussec R200 models, Montblanc has never applied hour markers to this 24-hour disc.
What’s so special about this travel time feature is what happens when you turn the crown in the other direction. Unlike most other calendar complications, the date wheel jumps backwards just as smoothly at midnight. The challenge of creating a “reverse” calendar means that most dual timezone watches lack a calendar complication altogether or link it to home instead of travel time. Unfortunately, the Montblanc Rieussec entirely lacks a quickset date feature, making it time-consuming to set the date when the watch has stopped.1
The dial is exceptionally deep and expressive, with a textured silver base base highlighting many contrasting elements. The day/night and date apertures are horn-shaped for a “rising” effect and feature fine bevels. The chronograph discs are smooth matte white, recalling Rieussec’s clock and contrast with the ceramic time ring. Also contrasting are the simple markings on the chronograph discs and train track effect on the time ring. The applied “Nicolas Rieussec” plaque at the bottom has a bit of historic detailing matched at 12:00. The leaf-shaped hands and distinctive diamond chronograph marker are blued. All these elements mix surprisingly well apart from the out-of-place guilloche texture on the day/night indicator and serif numerals on the date wheel.
Montblanc traditionally uses an expressive serif font for Arabic numerals but the Homage lacks hour markers entirely. I love the clean look of the multi-layered silver and white dial and feel that the numerals found on most other Rieussec models are unnecessarily busy. But one more special feature of the Homage to Nicolas Rieussec is revealed when the lights go down.
The hour ring is made of a special ceramic material with Super Luminova impregnated into it in the shape of those traditional hour numerals. In the dark, the Homage looks like any other Rieussec, with bright shining numerals and hands. And this feature is completely invisible during the day: Look closely at the detail photos above! This luminous ceramic material is reportedly extremely difficult to make, explaining the rarity.
Aesthetically, the Homage to Nicolas Rieussec tilts the balance between classic and modern in the latter direction. The chunky case has architectural elements, with rounded edges and geometric shapes. Edge on, one sees a distinctly oval profile with character lines above and below the lugs to break up the height. The crystal is slightly domed, continuing this motif.
Montblanc has always combined the traditional with the modern, and this shows up many places in the Rieussec. The crown is almost retro, large and prominent with chunky knurling. But look again and you realize it’s actually reminiscent of the top of a Montblanc fountain pen, complete with inset star logo.
Rounding out the watch is a large, barely-tapered leather strap and modern multi-part deployant. The clasp features pushbuttons and opens butterfly style, two elements which I prefer. And the tongue is attached with an easy to open clasp of its own, allowing the strap to be adjusted very quickly.
Montblanc made many different watches in the Nicolas Rieussec series between 2007 and 2015. Most are limited editions and mix and match pointers and discs for hours, date, and travel time. Surprisingly, only this 2014 Homage model features Rieussec’s disc and pointer layout, and only this model has the clean modern aesthetic noted above. The Homage was limited to 565 pieces in stainless steel and 193 pieces in rose gold, with an additional Watches and Wonders run with a luminous horse limited to 100 pieces in stainless steel and 30 in rose gold.
Complicated and limited enough to be special yet robust and affordable enough to be worn, my Montblanc Homage to Nicolas Rieussec is a frequent selection from the watch box.
- You might have noticed that the date in these photos is set to 31 even though this is the April 13 edition of Watch A Day. Blame the lack of quickset date in Montblanc’s Cal. MB R200! ↩